Jekyll & Hyde
The Broadway revival of Frank Wildhorn's gothic musical is leaner, meaner, and a whole lot more fun to watch.
If your impression of Jekyll & Hyde is based mostly on the infamous 2001 DVD of the original Broadway production, starring David Hasselhoff, you should forget everything you know about the show immediately. Alright, the revival at the Marquis Theatre still features all the vocal pyrotechnics and schmaltzy power ballads that were perhaps the only redeeming quality of the original, but this version is infinitely sexier. With the help of director Jeff Calhoun (Newsies), composer Frank Wildhorn and author/lyricist Leslie Bricusse have painstakingly revamped the musical to make it more exciting, more arresting, and most importantly, less cheesy.
Of course, there's still a fair amount of melodrama, but that is inherent in the story: Based on Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the musical Jekyll & Hyde follows scientist Dr. Henry Jekyll (Constantine Maroulis), a man obsessed with isolating the elements of good and evil in human nature after witnessing his own father's descent into madness. Unable to secure a human subject for his experiments, he begins to test his radical drugs on himself, thereby unleashing his evil counterpart, Edward Hyde (also Maroulis). Along the way, both men enter a complicated — and in the case of Hyde, sadomasochistic — relationship with showgirl/prostitute Lucy Harris (Deborah Cox), who just can't seem to catch a break. When the experiment starts to fly out of control, Lucy is caught in the middle of this dangerous game.
Cox is revelatory as Lucy, eschewing the helpless damsel for someone much grittier, and in turn, she is more interesting to watch. Lucy is a hard-shelled hooker with a heart of gold who just wants a better life somewhere far away from stinking, filthy London. Maroulis brings an appropriate tenderness to Jekyll that makes his transformation to Hyde, here portrayed like a nightmarish version of Slash from Guns N' Roses, all the more jarring. Expectedly, both actors bring the house down with their powerful voices, delivering some very challenging music as if it were effortless. American idol-bred Maroulis seems to especially revel in Wildhorn's glory notes: This is the role he was born to play.
For his part, Wildhorn has improved on his original score, adding a rocking "I Want" song for Jekyll ("I Need to Know") and replacing Lucy's trite cabaret act, "Good 'N' Evil," with the exceedingly sexy and fun "Bring on the Men," staged here like Fosse's "Mein Herr" but with bondage play. (The "Spider's Web" club where Lucy works looks like an actual spider's web with ropes attached to every chair.)
Wildhorn owes much to the clever orchestrations of Kim Scharnberg, including a harpsichord-infused "Façade" (a song about classist duplicity) and a "Dangerous Game" with a slutty bass line that wouldn't feel out of place in soft-core S&M porn. Director Calhoun has, in turn, staged it that way in a very hot scene that breaks up what would otherwise be a sleepy second act.
Bricusse has also tightened his script, removing the unnecessary narration that once framed the show and excising superfluous characters like Nellie the German Madame. This helps Calhoun to keep the show rolling: It only stops dead in its tracks for anthems like "This is the Moment" or "A New Life," and considering how impressive the vocals are, I was happy to sit back and enjoy.The sleekness of this revival is further aided by Tobin Ost's versatile and gothic design: Gone is Dr. Jekyll's basement meth lab, replaced with something more closely resembling an electric chair/dialysis machine — from hell. Industrial metal invades every part of the stage. The costumes verge on steampunk (especially Jason Wooten's dreadlocks), firmly placing the show in a highly stylized Victorian England. Meanwhile, Christian imagery abounds, starting with Jekyll's father, suspended in a crucifixion from the earliest moments of the play.
Daniel Brodie's tasteful and well-produced projections do a lot of the heavy lifting, transforming the large brick panels that make up the biggest part of the set into practically any space, a necessity for a show that changes locations almost every scene. A shadow of Hyde stalks the dark corners of the set and appears on the scrim during intermission. The culmination of Brodie's work comes during "Confrontation." Once a silly hair-flipping tour de force, the song has become a sensory meltdown almost certainly inspired by this double exposure of original stage Jekyll/Hyde Richard Mansfield.
In fairness, a lot of the cutting-edge technology that is used in this revival was not in existence for the 1997 original. But one cannot chalk the success of Jekyll & Hyde up to mere technological advances. The general symbiosis of this production — that is the feeling that the music and text have become better through conversation with the design and vice-versa — is a happy reminder that the theater is a meeting place of all the arts, and can only excel through successful collaboration. Also, this cast can really fricking sing: That's worth the price of admission alone. Go see it.